As usual several of the more interesting-sounding titles at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival weren’t made available for preview, and so, I can’t say for certain that Gyorgy Palfi’s Free Fall—screening at the festival today at 6:15 PM and
tomorrowSunday at 2:45 PM, with Palfi in attendance for both shows—is any good. But based on my experience of the first two features by this Hungarian writer-director, I can say with some confidence that his latest should be eye-catching at the very least.
Palfi made a small splash on the festival circuit last decade with Hukkle (2002) and Taxidermia (2006), two visually inventive, deliberately tasteless comedies about the ugliness of Hungarian life. (Both are available to rent at Facets Multimedia and Odd Obsession Movies, if you want to catch up.) Hukkle is a near-wordless murder mystery that suggests an unlikely fusion of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Blue Velvet. Taxidermia is a grotesque family epic set against a cartoon-nightmare version of modern Hungarian history. Some of its memorable set pieces include an olympic speed-eating contest for the biggest men in the Stalin-era Soviet bloc and an obese recluse in the present day making taxidermic figures out of his enemies. The outre humor was clearly too much for many viewers (I remember seeing lots of people walking out when it played at CIFF eight years ago), which might explain why Palfi’s been absent from the festival circuit for almost a decade.
Based on early reports, Free Fall sounds like an extension of the strange world Palfi created in Taxidermia. Critic Peter Debruge, writing for Variety in July, compared the film’s style to that of The Far Side and summarized the plot thusly:
In the opening scene, an unhappy Hungarian woman steps off the roof and plunges past [seven stories of her apartment building], but remarkably doesn’t die when she hits the pavement. Over the course of the next 80 minutes, as she limps her way back upstairs, Palfi takes us into each of her neighbors’ apartments, revealing strange, darkly comedic and inevitably surreal glimpses into modern life—vignettes that defy interpretation and don’t necessarily appear to connect, yet offer undeniably wicked fun for edge-seeking art house audiences.
“It’s thrilling to see a director in such clear command of the cinematic medium operating in such a playfully stylized way,” Debruge concluded. “The project calls for an enormous ensemble and a wide variety of sets (no two apartments look alike), which pack a damning collective attack on Palfi’s countrymen.”